Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Behavioural Special Needs

7. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): What plans she has to improve provision for children with behavioural special needs. [56350]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning (Margaret Hodge): Our new special educational needs code of practice provides sound advice on how best to meet the needs of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. We have also established a working group to look at the future role of special schools, including provision for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. The group will be reporting to Ministers in the autumn.

Tim Loughton: In autism awareness year, the incidence of reported autism among schoolchildren is at record levels and the National Autistic Society reported recently that one in 86 children have educational difficulties associated with autism or Asperger syndrome. Is the Minister aware of the Mental Health Foundation report that estimated the lifetime cost resulting from autism and associated learning disabilities at more than £2.9 million per person, of which 70 per cent. is made up of living costs and only 7 per cent. is spent on education? Is that not a false economy and should she not be doing more to redress that imbalance and to recruit specialist teachers to work in the classroom to identify the problems and intervene at an early stage to give children with autism a better chance of getting a better start as adults, thereby saving extra costs later in life?

Margaret Hodge: I agree that we need to invest and get better at identifying children with special educational needs and those relating to autism as soon as we can. We have started the work on that. We are about to produce guidance on children from nought to two, which will ensure that we can work across departments—not only with the education services, but with social and health services—to identify children's needs earlier. We then have to ensure that we have the proper services in place to respond to those needs so that those children can develop their potential. We are at the start of developing those services. We have a lot more to do, but we are on the right track.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): I am pleased to hear the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), but does she realise that although that is what she says in the House, what is happening out in the real world is different? Will she admit that many parents of children with special educational needs have long and tiring struggles to enforce the terms of their child's statement simply because of the vicious triangle between the three departments—health, education and social services—which do not work together at present? Will she undertake to work more closely with other Departments and encourage that approach right down the line to the local authorities and, in so doing, will she also find out how many children are autistic and have other behavioural problems? At present, the Government do not have that information. I am pleased to hear that they are beginning work on it. Will she give the House an undertaking that

23 May 2002 : Column 382

she will accelerate that work? If we do not know how many children will need special education in the years to come, how can we possibly plan for it?

Margaret Hodge: Our record in government is much better than that of the Conservatives when they were in office. One only needs to consider the fivefold increase in the standards fund, the £220 million access initiative, and the extra £760 that we are going to invest in every child during these two spending review periods to realise that we are putting our money where our mouth is. I agree with the hon. Lady that there is much more to do. We need to get better data and that is why we ran the pilot in July 2001 among 200 schools to get some idea of the broad range of special educational needs. We are considering implementing that throughout the country in 2004. I also agree with her that we need to get better at working across professions.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Crown Prosecution Service

33. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): What assessment she has made of the results of the trials under which the Crown Prosecution Service rather than the police decides on the charge against defendants. [56378]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): In his review of the criminal justice system, Sir Robin Auld proposed that the CPS should take over responsibility for charging suspects, which is currently done by the police. To identify the practical issues that would need to be addressed if that change were made, we have set up pilot schemes in five areas, and the results of those pilot schemes will be looked at this summer.

Dr. Starkey: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her answer, but may I tell her that a couple of my constituents, who have had experience of the CPS either refusing to press charges or downgrading charges against defendants, have been outraged by those decisions and the total lack of adequate explanations to them, as victims of crime, as to why the CPS took those decisions? May I ask her to ensure that, in considering the trial, communicating the decision to the victim is also considered and that, if the CPS takes the decision, it should communicate its reasons for doing so to the victim and not leave that to the police, who often disagree with the decision of the CPS?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend raises a number of important points. First, she talks about charges that have been made by the police subsequently being dropped and the disappointment that that causes the victim. It is also unfair on the defendants to have charges hanging over them. One of the charging pilot schemes' objectives is to ensure that a charge should never be made in cases that are going nowhere because of insufficient evidence and that therefore it is recognised from the outset that it is not a runner. That certainly appears to be happening in those pilots.

23 May 2002 : Column 383

As for the explanation to the victim if charges have to be dropped or changed, we want to ensure that far fewer charges are in fact dropped or changed, but in the old days a charge could be dropped and sometimes the victim would not be told and only read about it in the newspapers. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to suggest that that is quite wrong. That is why we have rolled out a national programme under which the CPS tells victims what is happening in a case and explains why it is happening.

Norman Baker (Lewes): Does the Solicitor-General accept that there is a further problem: sometimes the police second-guess the CPS and do not put evidence before it because they wrongly believe that the CPS will not prosecute, whereas it may well do so? Is that not a particular problem with sex offences, where the police perhaps conclude that, if there is no victim statement, they are unable to proceed with the case, whereas the CPS would be prepared to consider such cases on the basis of other evidence that might accrue?

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman is right. The problem is not just that cases are charged and then dropped, but that good cases are not taken to court because the police think that the CPS would not consider that there was enough evidence. The idea of the charging pilot schemes is that the CPS should work closely with the police at the outset, give advice about the nature of the evidence needed and assess the amount of available evidence, so that it can get the charge and the evidence right and the case can proceed swiftly to court.

Youth Justice Inspectorate

34. Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): If she will make a statement on the progress made by the new inspectorate on youth justice issues; and if she will make a statement. [56379]

The Solicitor-General: The inspectorates of the Crown Prosecution Service, the police and the courts carried out a joint inspection into youth justice in February last year. Today, they have published the report of their follow-up inspection, and I have placed a copy of it in the Library. The target of halving the time from arrest to sentence has been achieved, but there are still some areas of the country where further progress needs to be made.

Mr. O'Brien: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Youth crime is causing a great deal of concern among many of my constituents, including the elderly and vulnerable members of our community. Street crime and the theft of mobile phones are significant among the crimes committed by young people. I am interested in the work of the inspectorate and its proposals on how to crack down on youth crime. What are its proposals on the delivery of youth justice and the successful prosecution of criminals in the courts? What help is to be given to the victims of crime?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend asks about the inspectorate, which gives me the opportunity to thank warmly the inspectorates of the courts, the police and, in particular, the CPS, which led the inspection, for the work that they have done. The combined inspectorate has gone

23 May 2002 : Column 384

through things with a fine-toothed comb, not looking just at the police, the courts or at the prosecution, but at how the entire system is working, and it is making proposals. It has been able to identify good practice, and encourage others to build on it, as well as to note those areas where more progress needs to be made. There has been progress on our pledge to halve the time that it takes to bring a youth to justice, which is a significant achievement on which the police, the courts and the CPS should be congratulated. We are making further efforts in relation to street crime, of which the House will no doubt be aware.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I am delighted that the Government have adopted what was effectively the content of my ten-minute Bill, albeit 10 years later, to reduce the time taken to bring young offenders to trial. Does the Solicitor-General share my concern that young offenders who are terrorising and vandalising towns such as Thirsk in the Vale of York are sometimes arrested two or three times in as many months but are simply not being prosecuted? What does she propose to do about that?

The Solicitor-General: Our objective is to ensure that more offenders are brought to justice. The hon. Lady makes the point about youth offenders and thanks the Government for taking up her Bill. I wonder why the previous Government did not take up her Bill—[Interruption.] They could easily have taken up the issue, but I shall move swiftly on.

When we took office, the average time between the arrest and conviction of a young person was 142 days, which was too long. We are proud of the progress that has been made on that, but we are not complacent, and more needs to be done.

Next Section

IndexHome Page